Once upon a time, you couldn’t eat anything you didn’t grow yourself. Then, more recently, you could eat anything you wanted, anytime you wanted—raspberries at Christmas! Asparagus in October!—as long as you didn’t mind that your food had traveled halfway around the world in a cargo hold. Then we got tired of that, of tomatoes that tasted like dust and cherries with insides like mush and apples with that damned little sticker to peel off, and we remembered, vaguely, but with great longing, strawberries that smelled like strawberries (which is to say, like heaven) and little baby beets with flecks of earth clinging to their tips.
[sidebar]Luckily, all through the Dark Ages of Philly’s Argentine-eggplant infatuation, a few brave pilgrims—Mary Seton Corboy of Greensgrow Farms, restaurateur Judy Wicks—kept the locavore flame alive, waiting for us to come home again, to Lancaster County free-range eggs and heirloom Brandywine tomatoes and handcrafted Ely Farm cheeses and ears of sweet corn still warm from the sun.
And now, more and more, farmers’ markets are springing up not just along the back-road routes to the Shore, but in vacant lots in West Philly and under bridges in Phoenixville and on historic landmarks in Center City, putting impeccably fresh produce within everyone’s reach. The unlikely twinned trends of instant gratification and back-to-the-earth are perfectly aligned, and what started as a fad for a handful of chefs and some die-hard granola types has become a way of life for more and more Philadelphians. What, you’re still buying plastic-bagged radishes at the supermarket? Get back to the land! Here, we’ve picked the cream of the farm-market crop, for a buyer’s guide to some of the best.
2nd and Lombard streets
Market stars: Bread and croissants from Wild Flour Bakery (known best as the creators of the Rouge Burger’s roll). Its partnerships with other local artisans—Philadelphia Brewing Company, Art in the Age (which makes the liqueurs Root and Snap)—have yielded some amazing breads. What the regulars know: It’s Sunday morning, and this isn’t a state store—but you can still buy wine. Look for local bottles from Stargazers Winery, Paradocx Vineyards and Penns Woods Winery. May 1st through December 18th, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. Headhousemarket.org.
23rd and Pine streets
Market star: Two Gander Farm honey, including one version harvested from hives kept on rooftops around Philly. Urban farming at its sweetest! Farmer to meet: Bob Kilgore of Brogue Hydroponics, who’s not only known for being the first guy out with tomatoes (just get there early in the day if you want some)—he’s also on the cutting edge of hydroponic growing technology. Ask him about it. Year-round, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.Headhousemarket.org.
Fair Food Farmstand
12th and Arch streets, inside Reading Terminal Market
Market stars: This homegrown stand (less a farmers’ market than a grocer, really) has a large selection, but among the constant favorites are Griggstown Quail Farm’s potpies; the turkey version has more flavor, but the chicken iteration has more—mmm—sauce. What the regulars know: Go ahead and bring your Visa. It’s the only market on this list where you can put everything you buy on your card. Year-round, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Fairfoodphilly.org.
Chestnut Hill Growers Market
Winston Road and Germantown Avenue
Market stars: Lititz’s Fahnestock Family Farm’s big, beautiful, pesticide-free tomatoes—and, come midsummer, peaches and apples. Snack on: Market Day, a favorite at other markets, will be joining Chestnut Hill Growers Market every other week this year, bringing its canelés—adorable little French pastries with a light, flaky outside and a velvety-rich center. You’ll want to buy some extras to take home, too. April 30th to November 19th, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Farmtocity.org.
22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue
Market stars: Nottingham’s Country Side Bakery’s traditional apple dumplings. They’re made the old-fashioned way—with lard—for a flakier crust. Farmer to meet: Bill Weller of Orchard Hill Farm, who specializes in unusual fruits. (Ever tried a Bavarian Saturn peach?) By midsummer, he’ll have the biggest, sweetest doughnut peaches you’ve ever eaten. May 5th through November 17th, 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays. Headhousemarket.org.
Germantown Avenue and Walnut Lane
Market stars: Wyck House fruits and veggies, and anything from the awesome selection of herbs and greens. Pick up some eggs, too, fresh from the chickens right on the property. What the regulars know: The market is in front of the historic 18th-century Wyck House, which is open to the public. Get a tour of the house and the garden where your food is grown, and say hi to the chickens that laid those eggs. May to November 20th, 2 to 6 p.m. on Fridays. Headhousemarket.org.
Under the Gay Street Bridge, accessible via Taylor Alley
Market star: Meat from Bucks County’s Backyard Bison. Lean, healthy steroid-and- hormone-free meat, complete with recipes from the farmers. Snack on: Cupcakes from Iced by Betty, who bakes ’em in flavors ranging from zucchini to butter vanilla with red raspberry filling to lime infused with key lime curd. May 7th through November 19th, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays; in winter, 10 to 11:30 a.m. two Saturdays per month. Phoenixvillefarmersmarket.org.
Hamilton and West State streets
Market star: Fresh produce from Kintnersville’s Trauger’s Farm Market. The 38-year veteran of this back-to-basics farmers’ market is a longtime favorite with an enormous, pesticide-free range of fruits and veggies and three generations of farmers selling them. What the regulars know: In the springtime, take the little ones by to pet Gull Cottage’s adorable baby guinea hens and chicks. April 16th to November 19th, 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Doylestownfarmersmarket.com.
18th and Walnut streets
Market stars: Lavender and lilies—in a whole rainbow of colors—from, yes, Lilies and Lavender flower farm in Doylestown. How can you resist? What the regulars know: Last season, the market expanded, and shoppers sometimes overlook the addition just around the corner, on 18th between Walnut and Locust. All the newest farmers are on that little stretch—don’t miss it! December to April, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays; May to November, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Farmtocity.org.
36th and Walnut streets
Market star: Fruit. Biglerville’s Beechwood Orchards is a huge producer of everything from berries to peaches to cherries, and offers brimming boxes of grapes, plums, apricots and nectarines as well. Snack on: Watch for Lancaster’s gluten-free baker, Amaranth, starting in the fall. May through Thanksgiving, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays. Farmtocity.org.
43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue
Market stars: Chocolate milk and cheese (especially the sharp cheddar) from Wyalusing’s Hails Family Farm, which specializes in all-organic local dairy. Just arrive early; by 11 a.m. the park gets crowded, and it stays crowded all day. Snack on: BBQ chicken and ribs, straight from the coals, from Country Meadows Farm. Or tacos: On Thursday, it’s Guapos Tacos; on Saturday, it’s Honest Tom’s. Year-round, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, and June 2nd to November 17th, 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays. Headhousemarket.org
Along Atlantic Avenue between Collings and Irvin avenues
Market stars: Early in the season, farmers will bring surplus vegetable plants to sell. Which means you can get nicely priced, decent-sized, well-loved, professionally grown vegetable seedlings to plant in your own garden. Snack on: Tortilla Press’s fresh quesadillas, made from ingredients pulled from the market early that morning. The insides change weekly, depending on the crops available. May 7th to November 19th, 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Collingswoodmarket.com.
Lancaster and Morris avenues
Market stars: Shellbark Sharp from West Chester is the goat cheese everybody raves over, but the lesser-known gem is Shellbark Hollow Farm’s marinated chèvre, which comes in pretty little jars with olive oil and herbs. Farmers to meet: Jeannette and Wayne Grabe of Canter Hill Farm in Malvern, who bring poultry—guinea fowl, chickens, ducks—in addition to the lamb for which they’re known, and who will tell you fabulous dishes you can make with them. April 23rd through October, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays; November through April, every fourth Saturday. Brynmawrfarmersmarket.blogspot.com.
South & Passyunk
South Street and Passyunk Avenue, just east of 5th Street
Market stars: Lancaster’s Livengood Family Farm’s pork, beef and, at Thanksgiving, turkey. Livengood’s is one of the longest-standing contributors to farmers’ markets in Philly—and this market is the oldest in the city. What the regulars know: Earl Livengood occasionally has whole chickens you can pre-order and pick up—just ask him when you’re there. Mid-May to November 22nd, 2:30 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. Farmtocity.org.
West Chester Growers Market
Church and Chestnut streets
Market stars: The spring’s first strawberries—so sweet!—from Blueberry Hill Farm in Stroudsburg. Another springtime beauty to look for: snow peas from Lincoln University’s Maple Hill Farm. What the regulars know: Call it the do-gooder’s farm market: This co-op (owned and run by its members) has its farmers donate produce to local food banks once a month—food banks that would otherwise have few fresh fruits and vegetables to offer to those in need. They’re also initiating a BYOB—Bring Your Own Bag—policy this year, trying to eliminate plastics from the market entirely. May through November, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Westchestergrowersmarket.com.